Happy Monday, it is so hard to believe today starts a new month, I am excited to see what new exciting experiences February brings each of us! I hope you take time to love yourself and your bodies this month. My heart and passion is to educate and empower women with whole-health information to live your happiest and healthiest lives through conversation. Today, in part 4 of my Menopause Series, Why trust your doctor, a subject I truly believe in and invest in daily. As new information is learned about treatment options patients and doctors need to continue an open dialogue.

Many physicians were not prepared for the controversy that erupted in 2002 after the publication of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI).

These events left women feeling isolated and alone with their menopausal symptoms becoming frustrated and even angry with their physicians.  Many turned to alternative therapies, over the counter regimes and even the media for information in their time of need.

In recent years, I have started to explore complementary alternative medicine (CAM) that includes a more pro-active, preventative approach to treating women as a whole.

By definition, “complementary medicine” refers to the use of alternative approaches ALONGSIDE conventional medicine while “alternative medicine” uses these approaches INSTEAD of conventional medicine and is less popular with the U.S. population.  Gaining acceptance among health professionals and lay people alike is “integrative medicine”, combining the best of both medical worlds.  Integrative medicine involves well-studied, safe and effective treatments from both CAM and conventional medicine and this is the approach that, I believe, has the greatest potential for patients.

The important difference between some alternative approaches and conventional western medicine is the fact that quality, rigorous, scientific studies have been done to prove or disprove most conventional medical therapies that are offered to patients as safe and effective.  Still, sometimes a study will lead us astray or be followed by subsequent studies that contradict the original findings.  Physicians are, therefore, left to critically appraise and decipher information on behalf of their patients everyday and that information changes rapidly.  In the medical profession, it behooves us to be aware of and have access to accurate, up-to-date, medical evidence because the scientific, rigorous studies that compare treatment options to one another, to no treatment at all or to a placebo (inactive medicine) are necessary for us to know if a treatment works, does not work; is safe or is not safe.  

Taking a treatment before it is known to be safe sounds like a ridiculous proposal because who would sign up to take a medicine that may cause harm?  But millions of people do this everyday by taking over-the-counter or non-FDA approved regimes offered commercially.  Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) is a multi-million dollar business in the U.S. and, while some of the treatments are proven safe and effective by the same set of inquiries as conventional treatments, many are not.  And, while many offer safer, less-invasive, more natural approaches, most are not critically evaluated and cannot make such claims.

To declare that a compound is truly effective or safe, a sample of enough subjects is needed in order to have enough “power” to profess those effects.  This means that it must include ample subjects, offer the same regimes as prescribed by your provider and find a sufficient difference in the results to make the treatment worthwhile.  If the treatment does not offer enough benefit, it may not be worth the inconvenience or expense of taking it everyday, especially when you consider that there may be side effects and risks to ANY compound that is put on or in your body.  

If the chance of a side effect is 1%, you would need over 100 people in the study to see one bad outcome.  If the risk is severe, like a heart attack or cancer, you would want to know about it before starting a treatment.  This means that at least 100 people need to have taken the treatment in order to know about that 1 in 100 possible bad effect AND there needs to be a tracking mechanism for risk information to be made public.

Scientific inquiry, as we call this line of questioning, is available to everyone.  With my recent exploration of CAM principles, I am convinced of the benefit of regular exercise, yoga, meditation and healthy nutrition.  I continue to anxiously await information about which other CAM remedies will, also, pass through this wall of scientific rigor so that I can offer them to my patients in clear conscience.  Until then, we should tread cautiously but with curiosity about the financial and health effects of available therapies for all that ails us.  

  • You can learn more at this reputable website.  http://nccam.nih.gov

“At UTMB (University of Texas Medical Branch), training medical students about the importance of the physician-patient relationship is such an amazingly rewarding experience! Just the thought of launching a new generation of caring, heart-centered providers into the world to heal healthcare one insightful and compassionate new graduate at a time keeps me motivated to continue my work!”

As a physician I am a lifelong learner that is committed to finding and sharing the best and safest treatment options for my patients. I encourage you to engage in conversation with your doctor about the new treatment options they recommend.

I look forward to seeing you next week for part 5 of the Menopause Series when we look at “Are there non-hormone options for menopause?”

Be well this week, remember to spend time taking care of yourself.